In case you didn’t know, I love short stories. I write them whenever the mood strikes, and they’re not easy. In case you also didn’t know, I love Neil Gaiman. I first found him via Graveyard Book—a full length novel for middle grade kids (and Sara Dobie) about Bod, a boy raised by ghosts in a cemetery. I love Halloween and ghostly bits, so of course, I loved the Graveyard Book. I also loved his Coraline, another middle grade book, which was recently made into a movie. I highly suggest both of them … as long as you’re into off beat, dark humor. I’m talking the stuff nightmares are made of. Similarly categorized would be the recent short story collection Stories, edited by Gaiman and writer/anthologist Al Sarrantonio.
From Gaiman’s website: “Stories is a groundbreaking anthology that reinvigorates, expands, and redefines the limits of imaginative fiction and affords some of the best writers in the world the opportunity to work together, defend their craft, and realign misconceptions.” In the introduction, Gaiman makes the claim that what really matters, in any story, comes down to four words: “ … and then what happened?” I agree, and so do the authors in this anthology.
A couple of my personal favorites:
- “Blood,” by Roddy Doyle. A darkly hilarious tale of a suburban husband and his uncontrollable longing to drink blood.
- “Fossil-Figures,” by Joyce Carol Oates. A beautifully written and descriptive biography of two twins—a demon brother and a cripple—and how life doesn’t let anyone get out alive.
- “Goblin Lake,” by Michael Swanwick. A story about … a story, pondering the question, “Are we all just characters in someone else’s plot?”
- “Catch and Release,” by Lawrence Block. I don’t want to give it away, but rest assured, this cautionary tale ain’t about fishing.
- “Loser,” by my dearest Chuck Palahniuk. What could be better than a bunch of tripping college kids on The Price is Right?
- “A Life in Fiction,” by Kat Howard. This is Kat’s first published short story. As a writer myself, this story was somewhat traumatic. Is again goes back to the idea of, where do we draw the line between fiction and fact? And as we create other words, are we perhaps forgetting to live?
- Finally, uber-creepy “The Cult of the Nose,” by anthologist Al Sarrantonio. A retelling of history and terror. When I mentioned the stuff that nightmares are made of, I’m talking about stuff like this.
Now, I’ve reread Stephen King’s Everything’s Eventual about a million times. It has always been my favorite short story collection. For most people, the short story is a dying art, which is why I’ve come upon so few excellent collections in the past few years. Stories is an excellent collection. It’s 428 pages of mind-blowing storytelling. It makes me want to pause the work on my novel and dive head-first into the epic challenge of creating an entire world within about thirty pages. It is an inspiration.
Knowing the work of Gaiman, I’m not surprised by the creep factor. I’m also not surprised by the talent. Each author in Stories has earned their right to be there. They have written tales that envelop you and pull you under. Neil Gaiman once wrote, “It is astonishing how much of what we are can be tied to the beds we wake up in in the morning, and it is astonishing how fragile that can be.” I would say something similar about the stories in this book, only that it is astonishing how much of our dreams can be tied to what we read before bed.
Prepare yourself. The stories are not just fluff. You’re not going to put the book down and forget about it. You’re going to remember that reformed serial killer, toying with hitchhikers. You’ll remember the man, woman, and child who burned in that hotel. You’ll remember the woman who disappeared into her boyfriend’s book. And you’ll do it with glee, knowing that in this world full of bad writers, there are still twenty-seven of them who know how to do it right.
For more info, visit Neil Gaiman’s website.